DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon DSLR Cameras

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Manual Mode in DSLR Camera is considered to be an out-of-this-world setting that many people never ever think of trying it. I have come across many people who own DSLR Camera for many years but never tried. Most popular reason being that it requires them to have technical know-how of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO settings which has a steep learning curve.

If this reasoning rings a bell even for you, let us tackle it right here right now. You will see yourself playing  around with Manual Mode like never before within matter of few minutes.

I have used images of Canon Rebel T3i DSLR camera settings in this article. Most of the Canon DSLRs probably have very similar settings. If you are a Nikon DSLR owner, please read DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Nikon DSLR Cameras.

If you follow these steps exactly the way I describe, you will never have to switch back to Auto mode.

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Step 1: Pick up your Camera and Start the Timer

This is the most important step. If you are just reading it in your office, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop, then no matter what, you will never learn it. If you do not have access to camera right now, then stop it here. Go back home, pick up your camera and then follow the next steps.

Start the timer now. Let us see how much time you will take to understand the manual mode.

Step 2: Turn the Mode dial to point to M which means Manual Mode

Rotate the mode dial, which is usually at the top right hand side, to point to M . Some of the models may have the mode dial at the top left hand side.

Mode Dial to choose Manual Mode in Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Select Manual Mode from the Mode Dial as shown in the picture for Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Step 3: Point the Camera where you find good light

This is very important step. Do not ignore this step. Turn on the camera if you have not done it already and point it towards a subject/object which has sufficient amount of light. Keep the camera on a stable surface to make sure the composition does not change.

To use Manual Mode under all lighting conditions read the DSLR Photography Basics: Getting Perfect Exposure Using Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

Step 4: Check the Important Camera Settings

Press the disp button which will display current settings in the LCD.

Display button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR to get Camera settings on the LCD

Press the display button to get Camera settings on the LCD screen. Image shown is for Canon Rebel T3i DSLR .

Note: After a few seconds LCD screen display turns off, press disp button to get it back.

You will see too many settings there. As of now, we are interested only in Aperture (F number) and ISO.

Aperture setting and ISO settings displayed on the LCD screen of the Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Image on the left shows the Aperture value which is circled in red. Images on the right shows the ISO value which is circled in red.

If you have never before touched the manual mode, then you should see F number to be very small like f/2.8, f/3.5, or f5.6.  If not, press Q (Quick Mode) button then traverse to aperture setting with F number. Turn the top dial towards your left until there is no change in F number.

Quick Mode selection button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, to select Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO

Press on Quick mode button and use the right arrow to move to Aperture setting (the F number). Choose the minimum Aperture value for your lens.

If ISO value is 100, which is the least value, then you are good. Otherwise, press Q button then traverse to aperture setting with ISO number. Turn the top dial towards your left until you get the lowest ISO number usually 100.

Quick Mode selection button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, to select Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO

‘ Press on Quick mode button and use the right arrow to move to ISO setting. Choose the minimum ISO settings possible.

Step 5: Check the Camera Metering indicator

Check the camera metering indicator which displays a dotted line with -3 and +3 on either side of the line.

Camera Metering mode which shows if an image is overexposed or underexposed.

Camera Metering mode which indicates if there is enough light or too much light. Left image indicates that there is less light (underexposure) and the right image indicates that there is more light (overexposure)

If you half-press the shutter button, you will also notice a blinking indicator either to the -3 side or to the +3 side of the dotted line. It is fine whichever way it is currently pointing to since you will learn in few minutes to deal with it.

Learn about Camera Metering Modes to achieve proper exposure under all conditions.

Step 6: Press the Shutter button

Press the shutter button. I mean it…just do it.

This is an important aspect of learning. Take action, make mistakes, learn from mistakes. If you learn only the right way of doing things, as the time passes, you will be scared to test anything else.

Now let us talk about the picture you took.

You are probably not impressed with what you got. May be it is not what you expected? Let us analyze it then.

Is it very dark? then it is underexposed, because of less light hitting the sensor. It means the meter indicator was towards -3.

If the picture is bright or washed out, then it is overexposed, because of too much light hitting the sensor. It means the meter indicator was pointing towards? you know that.

You might already have solved the problem in your head now. Have you? you know what to do, isn’t it? Do it.

Step 7: Achieving the Proper Exposure

Press the disp button again to get back to the settings on the LCD screen.

If the picture was underexposed or the arrow is pointing towards -3, then turn the main dial towards your left (counter-clockwise direction).

Image showing main dial in Canon Rebel T3i DSLR which is used to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO get the perfect exposure.

The main dial which is used to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO get the perfect exposure.

As you turn it left, you will notice that the blinking indicator below the dotted line comes closer towards center. Keep turning the dial in counter-clockwise direction until the blinking indicator hits the center (0 marking) of the dotted line.

Camera Metering Indicator which helps to determine the perfect exposure.

Image on the left shows that there is very less light, which means the resulting photograph will be underexposed. Image on the right shows the proper exposure.

If the picture was overexposed or the arrow is pointing towards +, then turn the dial, towards your right (clockwise direction).

As you turn it right, you will notice that the blinking indicator below the dotted line comes closer towards center. Keep turning the dial in clockwise direction until the blinking indicator hits the center (0 marking) of the dotted line.

Camera Metering mode helps to determine how much light is necessary to get the perfectly exposed image.

Image on the left shows that there is too much light, which means the resulting photograph will be overexposed. Image on the right shows the proper exposure.

In Steps 6 and 7, you changed the Shutter Speed to achieve the proper exposure. Shutter speed is represented in seconds. Generally it will be in fraction of seconds like 1/30 or 1/60 all the way upto 1/4000 or 1/8000.

In all possibilities, you should get the arrow to point to center unless you have chosen a subject which is way too dark or way too bright.

Step 8: Make your very first Photograph using Manual Mode!

Press the shutter button now. Did you get the picture what you were longing for?!

Congratulations! on your very first photograph using manual mode. You have taken control of your camera, there is no turning back from here.

Stop the timer now. How much time did you take to learn? Was it hard to learn?

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Did you enjoy this article? Do you want to know about some other concept that is haunting you from a long time? Let me know in your comments.

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62 Responses to DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon DSLR Cameras

  1. Carlski December 5, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Very good tutorial. This is so much easier in the digital era than back in the film days where you had to wait for the results. When is the Nikon version coming?

    • Prathap December 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks a lot Carlski. Well said! DSLRs are making everything so simple that one day people may stop thinking and only start clicking 🙂
      Nikon version will be posted today.

      • Dallas October 7, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

        Thank you for your insights, easy to read and understand. I have recently taken on the role of taken on sports pictures at Night. (Soccer) can I use these same steps or would you advise a different approach. Issue is blurred images due to night time and lighted fields. Thanks Dallas

  2. Arun SN December 5, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Good start Prathap….. Basics are very clearly explained and its is simple to understand. Information is neatly composed and visuals are well displayed…. awaiting for more topics. Keep going…. Good luck!

    • Prathap December 5, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

      Hi Arun, glad that you took time visit my blog. Your words are very encouraging and valuable for me. Thanks a lot.

  3. Sylvia December 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Prathap, You’re off to a good start with the tutorials. I’m new to photography and have been taking classes for almost a year. I think the key things you’ve mentioned in both tutorial is to know what you want to photograph and to get out and practice, practice, practice. Your work inspires and fuels me to keep shooting and learn from my mistakes. Best wishes!

    • Prathap December 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      Well said Sylvia. Practice makes man perfect. It is definitely a challenge to keep yourself inspired unless you are truly passionate about what you photograph.
      Thanks a lot for your kind words. I wish you an enduring photographic experience and success.

  4. Robert December 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Great stuff. Would it be possible for you to add a print option so we might take the articles with us out into the field.

    • Prathap December 9, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

      Hi Robert, Thanks a lot for encouraging comment. I have not yet thought about giving a print option. I will surely consider it.

  5. Beverly Morgan February 27, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Thank you so much…I am so appreciative for your
    DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon DSLR Cameras.

    Beverly

    • Prathap March 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

      You are most welcome Beverly. Thank you!

      • Ahmade asif June 21, 2016 at 4:08 am #

        Sir i have cannon1200d but i don’t know,how i use this,because i am new in this,proficnal can i get you fb id or number of you it will be,your most kindness and thanks for your 8 steps

  6. Roy March 4, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    Thank you for the articles which are very easy to follow. A very big thank you for a fantastic download of your E/Book.
    Photographs that you use are truly amazing.

    • Prathap March 4, 2014 at 7:49 am #

      Thanks a lot for your appreciation and encouragement Roy. I am glad to know that they are easy to follow. I hope you enjoy the upcoming articles too.

  7. Muzaffar Ahmed Khan November 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Excellent article-I am impressed Prathap-read from A to Z what you wrote-easy to understand and follow. Thanks for contributing this guide for all those who are passionate to learn the photography skills. Muzaffar A. Khan

    • Prathap November 7, 2014 at 5:56 am #

      Thank you so much for kind words Muzaffar A. Khan. Thank you for taking time to read through my articles and letting me know about my work. I really appreciate it.

  8. Val December 5, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    Hi,

    What should my shutter speed in order for my shutter to click? When I had the shutter speed at 1/25 (or something similar), the shutter wouldn’t click. When I had it at 4”, it took a long time for the picture to take and it was very blurry. FYI: I was shooting at a Starbucks at 8 at night.

    • Prathap December 9, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Hi Val, Thank you for giving the complete details of your issue. At night (which is low light condition), the auto focus does not work properly in most of the cameras. When auto focus hunts for the subject in the dark, it does not allow shutter to click.
      One solution would be to manually focus it and take the photo. Otherwise, choose the auto focus point (manually) that points to the highly lit subject in the scene like Starbucks board or something similar. The issue however would be to set the exposure properly so that you would let the brightness and the darker objects to be exposed well. Please check the exposure (9-part) series to better understand about exposure and also about exposure compensation.
      If you want to use the slower shutter speeds, you have to use the tripod. I hope this helps.

  9. David January 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    This is such a well written and illustrated tutorial. I want to say it is the best that I have read or seen demonstrated. Just by reading and observing I have already gained the confidence to start using the manual mode. Thanks for your excellent tutorial. I shall be referencing this until I become an expert in this mode.

    • Prathap January 24, 2015 at 1:22 am #

      Thank you so much for your kind and appreciative words David. I am so glad that it is useful.

  10. Vaishnavi February 15, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Really great article, Its very helpful for beginners like me.

    • Prathap February 17, 2015 at 8:23 am #

      Thank you so much Vaishnavi. Glad that it was helpful to you.

  11. suresh raut June 2, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    It very good arrival on manual mode photography. Very simple and preside.

  12. Suresh Raut June 10, 2015 at 12:16 am #

    I did read or note on manual mode.Its real simpal the way u explain. Thanks.I would like tohave free e- book onDSLR concept made easy.eagarlly waiting. Once again big thanks.

  13. Rajesh June 12, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Thank you for the wonderful note & simple explanation on the manual mode on DSLRs.

    I’m a photographic enthusiast and own a Canon 1200 D. I tried all the possible ways to understand the function of the button with the ‘*’ mark.
    I know that during the view mode, this will work as a ‘Zoom Out’ function. The button adjacent to this work as a focus point selector in shooting mode & as ‘Zoon in’ during view mode

    What is the button with ‘*’ will do while shooting mode..?
    At the end, will back button focus work with cannon 1200D..?
    Could you please share the necessary settings for this..?

    • Prathap June 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

      My pleasure! Rajest. * button in Canon DSLRs are used for locking the Exposure. Suppose, you are shooting a panorama in a semi-automatic mode, then you might want to lock the exposure between the shots. This helps you to keep the exposure constant across the multiple shots.
      I would recommend you to check out this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18Ib1mhvjOA for back button focusing technique.

  14. calle434 June 13, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    Nice simple and easy to understand. Beautiful work.

    • Prathap June 17, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Thank you so much! Calle434

  15. Tiffany Lee July 14, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    Great tips. Just needed the canon version of what I already know on a nikon. Thanks mate. 🙂

    • Prathap July 15, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

      My pleasure! Tiffany Lee.

  16. abhay August 17, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

    This is very well written and simple to follow. As other have said I am getting confidence to use manual mode just by reading it. I will definitely follow this blog until I master the skill. Thank you

    • Prathap August 18, 2015 at 9:13 am #

      That’s great to know, Abhay. Thank you. Do let us know how it goes.

  17. Deb August 29, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    Hello. Thanks for the easy tutorial. It helped me to use M mode for the first time. I have a question. When I will take night landscape picture, should I still keep ISO @ 100 ? or should I put it in auto mode?

    • Prathap August 29, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

      My pleasure! Deb. While you are shooting landscape at night, you should always use a Tripod and aim for ISO 100 or lower ISO values to avoid any noticeable noise. Do not use Auto ISO mode.

  18. suresh raut November 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Dear Prathap I would like to know before click photo what are the camera setting to be carry out so the proper set camerra will get good picture. If any such e-book our blog u have it.will u please let me.I would like to purchase it. Thanks.

  19. Sarah December 5, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    This was perfect and such easy step by step instructions. I’ve been wanting to take some shots of the Christmas tree lit up and was able to get several good pictures! Thanks for giving us novices a “Reader’s Digest” version of how to use our cameras!!

    • Prathap December 10, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Sarah. I am happy that you it was useful.

  20. david May 19, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Thank u for ur explanation mr prathap,
    Am david from Nigeria I love photograph a lot I just buy Canon 7b and I don’t even understand the camera, maybe u can just put me 2ru

    • Prathap May 21, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      My pleasure! David. That’s nice to know. If you keep loving photography as much as you do, in no time you will find ways to learn. Just keep at it. Let me know how I can help.

  21. Ashley July 19, 2016 at 4:53 am #

    I don’t have my camera with me! 🙁 But this is the best tutorial I have found yet. So simple!! Thank you!

  22. Gulraiz Ullah August 22, 2016 at 11:57 pm #

    Sir what an article. I mean,how cleverly and tactfully you presented the information. I never thought I could understand Manual mode that easily. Bro,thanks alot and make some more like this one.

  23. Ullas October 4, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

    I feel confident after this tutorial. Good job. keep up.

    • Prathap October 5, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

      That’s great, Ullas. Thanks.

  24. Narendra October 24, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    Hi Prathap, this article is very helpful for beginners like me.I want to learn some more basics for nature photography. Can you please provide that.

  25. ajay December 12, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi Prathap,

    I bought a cannon Rebel 6i a week back and started my photography, I tried to take pics in the evening 4:30 PM during a snowy day where light was little dull, I had 6400 ISO, low shutter speed and low Aperture, my images were shaky, dull and not good, swithched to Auto mode, even then the pics were not clear and flash doesn’t open for all the pics, can you help me take a beautiul pic of a snowy day. Thanks

  26. Ann January 3, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

    Hi, I am very new at this. With my Canon 1200d the meter indicator on the screen always shows -3. in the viewfinder it does change. I don’t know if its a setting, I have tried to vary, change settings, iso, shutter speed, aperture etc, but nothing. I have tried cleaning connections of lense, Is it me, or the camera???? I’m thinking it’s something simple, but I dont get it (yet)….
    Thanks in advance,
    I would love to take pictures of birds, but I’m a long way off yet,

    • Prathap January 4, 2017 at 11:35 pm #

      Hi Ann, It looks like you are checking it in the low light. Or, you haven’t removed lens cap (though, I suspect that a lot). Just go out in the sunlight and try the experiment again and you’ll see it working if you follow the steps.
      If not, let me know and I will help you.

  27. Kenneth January 6, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

    this is the best article I have had so far. it’s really helpful. I have struggled to understand manual mode concept. I never knew I had to understand light metering. Tnx for dis.

    • Prathap January 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

      My pleasure, Kenneth.

  28. Ravindra January 11, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    Hello Pratap,

    Good article for beginers like me. I have Nikon D3300 with 55-200mm VR2 lens and i am not able to capture sharp images.kindly suggest.

    • Prathap February 9, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

      Hi Ravindra, the best way to see if it’s the problem with your hand-holding technique is to try and shoot at faster shutter speeds like 1/500 to 1/000 or above. Another thing is to stop down the Aperture to f/8 and shoot. One of these or both these factors might yield you good results.
      Let me know how it goes.

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